Celtic’s Mis-Firing Strikers And The Mechanics Of Success And Failure.

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The oft-told wisdom is that “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It’s a nice line, but is it true? In a sense it is. Because once you find out what’s survivable you lose a lot of your fear. We dreaded losing that first league title; once it happened, we remembered that the most important title is always the next one and boy, did we enjoy that triumph.

But for a lot people, and institutions, merely surviving isn’t enough.

You have to find the reserves of strength and courage to get back up and carry on, and I understand that for a lot of people the game isn’t worth the candle.

That’s why companies fold after one bad quarter, it’s why people walk away from relationships after one big fight, it’s why so many football clubs sack their managers prematurely and often find themselves in deeper trouble.

Whatever doesn’t kill you can still kill you. If you let it.

The Ibrox manager has tried to fob off his fans with the idea that their Champions League defeats are the elixir whose heady brew will bring future triumph. I know their fans are pretty daft at times but surely even they won’t swallow that?

I argued earlier that if you ignore the results, you can see we’re on the right path. Why aren’t we standing in green fields gazing at the Promised Land already? There are two basic elements to this, but perhaps the most important one is pressure.

Now, this team deals with pressure every single day. When they conceded late against St Johnstone they were under immense pressure. If Giakoumakis doesn’t get that goal we’re genuinely reading “Celtic in crisis” headlines this morning, and we’d be daft not to recognise that as a fact. The press would love to be writing that stuff.

So a certain type of pressure, yes, we’re more than capable of dealing with it.

But it is difficult to shake the feeling that much of what we’ve experienced in the last month or so, domestically as well as in Europe, is simply in the player’s heads.

Look, Kyogo, Maeda and Giakoumakis are all good strikers. Abada, Jota, O’Riley, Haksabanovic, Forrest, Hatate and Turnbull are all good finishers and can be expected to add goals on top of assists. How is it possible that the free-scoring team of earlier in this campaign has simply stopped doing what comes naturally? To me, it’s about pressure.

If you’re decent at putting the ball in the net, and you get a free shot at the keeper in the penalty area the mechanics of actually hitting it where you want it to go do not change whether that chance falls to you in training, or in a public park or in a Champions League final. The actual art of striking the ball cleanly requires the same basic movement of muscles and if you’re a proven scorer as these guys are then you should put it away almost all the time.

But only if no other elements were present in that split second when you have the decision to make about how to strike it and where to put it, and unfortunately that is what changes everything. Because the weight on your shoulders if you’re playing in a Champions League final feels very different from casually hitting a ball into a practice net.

And it’s not impossible that some of these guys – this whole team – have vertigo.

To understand how that happens you have to dig into psychology and physiology and really who has time for that here?

But it’s known that entire teams can be affected by loss of confidence even when it springs, initially, from one area of the pitch. Research mass hysteria, and you’ll see what I mean.

A team gets its swagger from its front men.

Imagine they are misfiring.

The pressure they are under easily leaps to the midfield, to guys who aren’t expected to score every chance in front of goal but now find themselves carrying that burden.

Then defenders who normally never need to worry about their own performances because the team spends so much time on the front foot, and beats teams into submission, suddenly find opposition players playing further up the pitch and where suddenly there are no goals in the plus column to cushion any mistakes those defenders might suddenly make.

Panic spreads through the whole side and before long the cohesion breaks down.

We saw it against St Mirren. We saw it for ten minutes against St Johnstone.

More importantly, we’ve seen it in the two games in Europe against RB.

Unforced errors. Uncharacteristic mistakes. Fear seeming to paralyse players who are normally nerveless.

Giorgios Giakoumakis said something interesting at the weekend, something that was overlooked by most people who listened to him. He said that in the moment St Johnstone equalised he imagined himself scoring the winner.

Whether he knows it or not – and he seems to, because he talked in the same period about his confidence – what he did there was a classic example of something that is not quite self-hypnosis but amounts to the same thing.

Positive visualisation is a technique used by a lot of people in professional sports and in other fields which enables them to get past their fears and self-doubts by focussing not on the potential pitfalls of failure but on the emotions associated with success.

Giakoumakis got up the field thinking about the moment the ball hit the back of the net.

He didn’t leave any room in his head for alternative scenarios like ballooning it over the bar.

This is how guys like Erling Haaland are able to do consistently what other players struggle to, and yes, he has an almost supernatural set of attributes which aid him in that, but really none of those would be in the least bit useful to him if he wasn’t always thinking in terms of success rather than failure.

I bet he never once worries about missing an open goal.

Up in the stands last night, the guys next to me groaned when Maeda missed that early chance and there was a feeling of “it’s going to be one of those nights from him” and yeah, it turned out to be.

The worst part is, if he scores that he approaches the whole rest of the game in a different way. Suddenly he’s got a chance at being the hero instead of being labelled the villain … and that’s two different sets of pressure to deal with.

The very best thing this team could do right now is learn to relax on the pitch again.

To understand that if the goals don’t come early that there’s no need to panic or start to get anxious. Play the game the usual way. Have confidence that they’ll come … and relieve some of the pressure until they do. I think once we get a couple in a game, we’ll hit a cricket score … once we’ve gotten over whatever this is we’ll be back to our free scoring finest.

But pressure is an issue with this team like any team trying to punch above its weight.

Rather than sign some new player in January, the best thing this club could do is invest in a top tier sports psychology department. Do not underestimate that stuff, and if you start to think it’s hocus pocus think for a minute about Giakoumakis and his comments at the weekend.

You can believe in coincidences if you like, but I think it happened because he willed it to happen and saw that moment playing in his head. He has the talent and the predatory skill to get himself into that position for that finish … the rest is about mentality, and he switched his senses on in the seconds before making that run.

He saw it and then he did it.

And that’s where the answer is for the rest of this team.

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  • John S says:

    Tactics too predictable in Europe. No variation. Opponents know this.

  • Tony B says:

    I would like to know why our players hit the woodwork so often, last night being a prime example.

    Are they visualising posts and bars instead of the goal area?

  • Saulgoodman says:

    Abada + forrest are not good finishers , maeda is not a good striker (or player) o’rielly hasn’t scored this season , jury’s out on kyogo imo

    • Jackson says:

      Has a point and not too hard to disagree with.
      In the first 15 mins last night Hatate gave the ball away on numerous occasions…he had a howler and what Ange sees in Turnbull I will never know…..slow and very weak in a challenge.
      Some new blood required in next window and hope our board backs Ange to the hilt.

  • SSMPM says:

    We said at the start of this CL campaign we’d have a better idea of where we are in our development, now we know. Those romanticists that thought we could do it all this season were reaching for the stars too soon. I agree with the sports psychologist angle, but not in isolation. We need more quality also. This 1st team/squad of 16/17 players are not yet at the level required. We tire after 60/70 minutes and don’t yet have the quality to replace them when that time comes.
    I’m not despondent, when you step back and look at it, we are on the right path. Win the league, improve the squad, and work on the technical mentality for another, better campaign attempt next season. That’s the year on progress we need. I don’t let the orange media and press’ joy bother me. It’s a sad indictment on them really that they can’t get any joy from their own team so have to divert to us to alleviate the pain of their own failures as they watch us title grab again

  • Martin H. says:

    I believe we are stuck between two types of football, champions league, and spfl, trying to adapt to Europe and trying to do some of that stuff in league, now were more or less out of Europe, I think we will kick off in our own league.

  • Iljas Baker says:

    Why didn’t he do the same thing against RBL? Or perhaps he did but without the same result. Positive thinking is great but so are other things that we are missing at the moment: stronger midfield, better players, a team that can last more than 60 minutes, better substitutes, variation in tactics.

  • Dan Dwan says:

    At this level of football it’s critical to convert your chances.
    In the first place it is encouraging that we are creating opportunities but a proven clinical striker is a must at this level and it’s obvious the firepower we possess at the moment are struggling.
    Oh for another King of Kings!!!

  • S Thomas says:

    To me personally it’s to do with the striking ability, kyogo needs benched, and let giakkoumakis start next few games. Hopefully this will waken him up, because the jury is out on him. 4 champions league games, and 0 goals from him is very poor. He hasn’t really been in any of the games, which is a concern. Ange should be looking at a quality marksman, that’s what’s missing for us in this group.

    • Johnny Green says:

      We were beaten by a far better side than we can handle, simple as that. Chances or not, we did not deserve to win a home game in which we had very little possession of the ball. It could have been a lot more to be honest. So, it’s back to the drawing board and to fight the good fight domestically. I would like to say it was good while it lasted, but it wasn’t, and Europe will just have to wait for another year.

      Unless of course we can beat Real Madrid in the Bernabeau, LOL

    • Johnny Green says:

      I’m looking forward to Liverpool humping your team tonight, Sean.

    • Micky V says:

      That clearly isnt the issue, it’s not like Celtic have been negated and teams prevented them from getting good scoring chances. In all games apart from mibbe Leipzig in Germany celtic should’ve scored at least 2 or 3 goals, so even if celtic are predictable, for large stretches of the matches they cant stop us getting into their box and making chances. Its the finishing thats the problem

    • Johnny Green says:

      how did you enjoy your 7-1 humping Sean?

  • Thomas adams says:

    James ,re gackie he wouldn’t have scored that winner if the St Johnstone defender didn’t take cramp ,if not he would have hoofed that upfield and it would have been 1-1.Last few articles your are asking if chances went in so got to take it on the chin.champions league is out of all scotland clubs dreams .

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